Season Review: 1. FC Köln Salvages Season on One Good Stretch

2019-20 Season: 36 points (10-6-18)

2018-19 Season: 63 points (19-6-9),  2. Bundesliga Champion and promotion to Bundesliga

Season in a Nutshell

Don’t believe what you hear from the most-vocal of FC fans. The only goal for this team going into the season was to not be relegated, preferably without having to survive a relegation-playoff round.

Despite winning the second-division title last season, the club was starting the season with a new trainer by its own choice. Markus Anfang was fired after a matchday 31 loss to Darmstadt, even though the club had a five-point edge over second place with three matches to play  and had been cruising toward promotion for most of the season. Achim Beierlorzer was plucked from SSV Jahn Regensburg to lead the FC into their Bundesliga return but was dismissed in early November after taking just six points from the first eleven matchdays and being bounced from the second round of the DFB Pokal by fourth-division side 1. FC Saarbrücken. Markus Gisdol was brought in to salvage what appeared early to be a sure-fire relegation fight and oversaw a run of eight victories in eleven matches. The club’s only real hot streak of the season was ultimately enough to keep it from ever being legitimately in the relegation picture, even while taking just four points from the nine matches after returning to play from the suspension of play due to the pandemic. The trainer role was not the only significant mid-season change in management, either. Sporting director Armin Veh was replaced by Horst Heldt after the failed start to the season. Heldt has since been extended into 2023. A new deal is expected to follow, though his original contract was extended automatically by one year upon avoiding relegation. 

Biggest Surprise: Sebastiaan Bornauw

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Armin Veh’s tenure in Köln will likely be remembered for spending (relatively) big on players who had little impact. Birger Verstraete has already been sent packing, and the returns on Ellyes Skhiri have been less than desired. Central defender Sebastiaan Bornauw, however, became an indispensable presence in the FC squad over the up-and-down campaign. The young Belgian scored six of the club’s 51 goals on the season, tied for second-most behind Jhon Cordoba and just one fewer than the combined total scored by forwards Anthony Modeste and Simon Terodde. While Bornauw has to answer partially for the club’s dismal defending, resulting in 69 goals-against this season. What cannot be disputed is the danger of his presence in the air, with four of his six goals coming from headers. 

Biggest Disappointment: Simon Terodde

The knock on Simon Terodde, for years, has been that he is an unstoppable force in the second division and mostly invisible in the first. After scoring 29 last season, Terodde seemed ready to partner again with Cordoba for maybe one final shot at showing he could be a big threat in the Bundesliga. 

That never materialized. 

Terodde was used largely as a substitute this season, missing the final five matches with knee problems. He played only 800 minutes and got just three goals.  Entering the last year of his current contract, an aspiring 2. Bundesliga team might be contacting Heldt about bringing Terodde back to the league in which he has had three seasons of 20-plus goals.

Biggest Need

The vast majority of FC matches were played on either end of the pitch, with little happening in the middle. Köln’s midfield efforts were sub-par in both possession and in resisting the advancements of the opposition. There is hope for the future from performances of young players Ismail Jakobs and Jan Theilmann, but consistency and stability were simply not there in the FC midfield this season, which helps explain why the attack was largely set-pieces and “get the ball to Cordoba and let him do something.” While the club can (and arguably should) continue to attempt to address this issue through its youth, there is not enough available currently to assure that will be enough to stay clear of the bottom three. Cordoba needs more support moving forward, and the center of the defense was over-taxed by failures in the midfield and on the flanks. Goalkeeper Timo Horn was under so much fire this season that he went from “Timo for the national team” to “replace him with a first-division keeper” in the span of a few months for many fans. Better play from the holding midfielders and a creative force to help Cordoba could go a long way in helping this club next season

Team MVP: Jhon Cordoba

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Cordoba arrived to the club in the wake of Modeste’s transfer to China and was instantly saddled with the burden of replacing a man whose offensive exploits led to the club’s greatest season in a quarter-century. Despite scoring against Arsenal for the club’s first goal in Europa League competition, Cordoba’s season was an abject failure, highlighting not only the absence of Modeste, but also his hefty price tag for the move from 1. FSV Mainz. Though he had fewer goals (20) than Terodde in the 2. Bundesliga title campaign, Cordoba was the heart of the attack, if not the entire team. His 13 goals this season is an impressive number considering the team’s struggles to maintain possession in attack. He is unlikely to ever bring back the amount paid for him, but his value to the FC attack was invaluable this season.

What to Expect

Heldt has already dismissed any expectations for the coming season beyond the club looking to achieve anything more than staying in the first division again. While that is similar to the tune being sung before the 2016-17 team finished fifth and got to Europe, the job before the club and management is vastly different. Under Peter Stöger and Jörg Schmadtke, the club built on consistency and benefitted from an outstanding season from Modeste to get a surprise pass to Europe. Heldt and Gisdol are trying to rebuild on the fly after seeing some of the club’s young talent depart under Veh. Fans won’t want to hear it, but this team is a long way off from being a sure-fire mid-table squad and will likely have some anxious moments next season.

 

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